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SHADOW IN THE SKY(director: Fred Wilcox; screenwriters: Ben Maddow/story by Edward Newhouse; cinematographer: George Folsey; editor: Ben Lewis; cast: Eduard Franz (The Doctor), Jean Hagen (Stella), Ralph Meeker (Burt), Nancy Davis (Betty), John Lupton (Clayton), Nadene Ashdown (Nina), Dennis Ross (Chris), James Whitmore (Lou), Gladys Hurlbut (Mrs. Lehner); Runtime: 78; MGM; 1951)
“Meeker was particularly effective as a sympathetic figure.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A poignant melodrama about the side effects of battle-fatigue lingering after WW11. Ralph Meeker is credible as the shellshocked marine who moves from the veteran’s hospital psychiatric ward to live with his sister and her family. It is a finely acted and well produced film, but the story itself is not that involving. I found its build-up to the climax, was not worth the wait. What the film did well was show that after the war many Americans thirsted for a better standard of life and thought they could get it in the suburbs. They had ambitions to own a home, own a small-businesss, and to raise a family.

Lou (Whitmore) and Betty (Nancy Davis-a year later she became Mrs. Ronald Reagan) are struggling after the war to live the American Dream. He owns a small garage, a brand new suburban house, and has a young daughter Nina (Ashdown) and a slightly older son Chris (Ross).

Betty’s brother Burt (Meeker) is in a nearby hospital being treated for shellshock which only causes a problem when it rains as he trembles, becomes agitated, and hides under a table. They visit him every Sunday but make no offer to take him home, as they are both afraid to have him in the house for their own selfish reasons.

Burt was a marine buddy of Lou’s, and he introduced Lou to his sister. He also saved Lou’s life as they were both in the same battlefield when Lou got hit and Burt carried him in the driving rain a long distance on his back to safety, with Lou’s blood all over him.

Stella Murphy (Hagen) is a volunteer in the hospital helping the vets cope with their mental problems and becomes romantically involved with Burt. A tension grows between her and Burt’s family, as she sees that he is anxious to live with them and they are reluctant to have him.

When Lou has a guilt attack and tells Betty they have to take him in, that the doctor treating him says it will be very beneficial for him to have the love and support of his family, she uses the excuse that she doesn’t want him around the kids.

Finally Burt goes to live with his sister, bonds with the children, and decides to rebuilt an old boat he bought with his service savings. The romance with Stella comes to a head when she asks him to go to her farm in Oregon and he says he can’t, that he has to sell the boat and help Lou out in business to pay him back for taking him into his house.

Warning: spoiler to follow.

In the climax Burt’s trauma over rain and romantic problems are resolved, as he learns how to cope in the rain with an emergency situation and how important Stella is to him. The payoff doesn’t amount to much, but it is a story lending itself to be sympathetic to the soldiers who came back psychologically impaired from the war and how difficult it is to adjust to civilian life again and how difficult it is for families to adjust to their condition. Meeker was particularly effective as a sympathetic figure, craving for affection and love, in this low-key human interest story.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”